Unless changed, MoH guidelines treat community support workers as expendable
31 Mar 2020
The Public Service Association says its members are receiving contradictory messages from the Ministry of Health that put at risk their lives and those of their clients.
Home support workers were told on Monday afternoon by Dr Ashley Bloomfield that they do not need to wear masks and should instead rely on following Ministry guidelines to stay safe, as not everyone in a health setting needs PPE.
This came after two disability support workers were confirmed to have caught Covid-19.
"This advice shows a disconnect from the reality of what support workers do, and treats them and their vulnerable clients as expendable," says Kerry Davies, National Secretary of the PSA.
"We are talking about a workforce of thousands, going into people’s homes, working in close physical contact with people they support to change dressings, change catheters, change diapers, do bowel evacuations and obviously coming into contact with bodily fluids, often visiting over a dozen homes a day. "
Some home support workers across New Zealand currently do not have access to hand sanitiser, let alone gloves, aprons or masks.
Clients are usually elderly and often have compromised immune systems already, and they are increasingly refusing to allow support workers into their homes without PPE.
Ministry of Health guidelines, as they currently stand, promise little PPE of any kind to home support workers unless the client is already suspected or confirmed as having Covid-19.
"We already know the virus can be transferred rapidly and easily by people without any symptoms. We also know that ignoring this fact is dangerous," says Ms Davies.
"Many are already deferring visits to enable PPE supplies to reach them, and now we are told even when supplies are there they won’t be issued to our members. What happens when a community support worker helps an asymptomatic carrier go to the toilet and washes their body, without gloves or a mask?"
The union says it is concerned to hear talk of saving masks and other PPE for an expected peak to come, because this puts lives at risk now and implies home support workers do not matter today.
Workers say if they are not provided with masks, gloves and aprons soon, more of them will be forced to refuse unsafe work.A video has been made by PSA community support members pleading for help with PPE access, and can be viewed on the union Facebook page.